He was a world-class marksman, a World War II veteran, a United States Army colonel, a father to five, an Olympian and a former FBI agent. He was also one of the men who, in 1937, shot Al Brady, public enemy No. 1, on Central Street in Bangor.
Col. Walter R. Walsh, a legend among marksmen, died at his home in Arlington, Virginia, on Tuesday, at the age of 106, just five days shy of his 107th birthday.
Walsh's son, Walter Walsh Jr., confirmed the death to multiple media outlets. At the time of his death, Walter R. Walsh was both the oldest living Olympian, surpassing gymnast Rudy Schrader, and the oldest living former FBI agent.
Walsh was known for his work on several major FBI cases in the 1930s, including discovering the body of George "Baby Face" Nelson in 1934 after he was killed by fellow agents, and capturing on a frigid January day in 1935 Arthur "Doc" Barker, the son of Ma Barker, who was wanted for murder, kidnapping, a jailbreak and a slew of bank robberies.
Walsh had traced Barker to an apartment building in New Jersey, and managed to catch the gangster unarmed, causing him to slip on an icy sidewalk.
"I asked him, 'Where's your heater, Doc?' He said, 'It's up in the apartment.' I said, 'Ain't that a hell of a place for it?'" recalled Walsh, in a video interview conducted around the time of the FBI's 100th anniversary in 2008. "He was ready to be shot if he tried to run. Lucky for him he didn't, because he was close enough he'd be hard to miss."
It was Walsh's expert involvement, however, in the October 1937 Al Brady shootout in Bangor that cemented his legacy. Brady was wanted for four murders, 200 robberies and a jailbreak, and he'd been traced by the FBI to Bangor, where he and his associates were trying to buy Thompson submachine guns at Dakin's Sporting Goods -- "Tommy" guns, a favorite weapon of 1930s gangsters.
According to BDN archives and Bangor historian Richard Shaw, Walsh was the one who posed as a clerk at Dakin's, waiting for Brady and his associates to arrive. The area was already teeming with FBI agents, stationed strategically around downtown to make sure they could take the gangster out, if needed.
Walsh first apprehended Brady gunman James Dalhover, who came into the store before Brady and his other associate, Clarence Lee Shaffer.
"[Dalhover] was asked, 'Where are your pals?' He said, 'They're outside,' and I started towards the door," recalled Walsh, in the FBI anniversary video. "[Shaffer] started in and he and I met in the doorway, and that's where the shooting started happening."
Walsh began firing at Shaffer, who was still outside on the street, firing alongside several other FBI agents stationed in and around the store. Shaffer was killed. FBI agents surrounded Brady's Buick, commanding him to step out of the vehicle, which Brady did -- but then began firing at the agents, who returned fire. Walsh, who was wounded in the chest, shoulder and right hand from the gunfight with Shaffer, fired the bullet that finally killed Brady.
In all, media outlets report that Walsh killed more than 10 gangsters during his FBI career.
Walsh, a native of Hoboken, New Jersey, joined the FBI in 1934, after graduating from Rutgers Law School. He was already an accomplished marksman, having been a shooting enthusiast since the age of 12. According to a New York Times article, as a child Walsh shot rats in New Jersey's Meadowlands and picked off clothespins from his grandmother's clothesline; by the time he went to college, he was able to hit a bullseye from 75 yards and hit moving targets with a pistol in both hands.
He competed in shooting tournaments throughout his FBI career, breaking a world record for centerfire pistol shooting in 1939, and eventually joining the U.S. Olympic shooting team at the 1948 Summer Games in London, where he placed 12th in the men's 50-meter free pistol competition.
Walsh joined the Marines in 1942 and spent two years training snipers, before being placed on combat duty in the South Pacific in 1944, joining the invasion of Okinawa in 1945. After the war, he rejoined the FBI briefly before returning to competitive shooting, winning many shooting competitions and training Marine marksmen until he retired from the military as a colonel in 1970.
In 1987, Walsh returned to Bangor to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Brady shooting, helping to lay the plaque on Central Street marking the place where the shootout happened. He was the guest of honor at the re-enactment of the shooting, and was given the key to the city. In 1994, he was the captain of the U.S. team at the world muzzleloading championships in Switzerland.
Walsh was predeceased by his wife, Kathleen Barber, who died in 1980, and survived by five children, sons Walter and Gerald and daughters Kathleen, Rosemary and Linda.